Formed in 2018 by Sei Nakauchi Pelletier, originally as a tribute band, playing songs by Japanese Psyche guitar legend Takeshi Terauchi; the Japanese seven-piece TEKE::TEKE quickly morphed in to a highly original band, grafting traditional Japanese instruments onto flute and trombone, guitars and a crazy rhythm section, topped with inspired (and slightly unhinged) vocal performances sung entirely in Japanese by visual artist Maya Kuroki. Described variously by reviewers here on Outsideleft (including myself) as “reminiscent of 1960’s and 70’s-era Japanese and Brazilian psychedelic soundtracks”, “Wild and relentless”, “ wonderfully varied, expressive, and unpredictably bonkers ”, “in a musical metaverse of their own making” and “a Japanese Frank Zappa, mixed with a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack”, Montreal based TEKE::TEKE are certainly a unique proposition, and they are heading to the UK in September.
Outsideleft caught up with Sei and Maya in Montreal for a chat:
OL: Thank you both for taking the time to chat with Outsideleft. We love your music here and the new album 'Hagata' is great. Firstly, I must ask you about where the name TEKE::TEKE comes from? There's obviously a very well known Japanese scary horror film called Teke Teke where the top half of a dead schoolgirl chases you and chops you in half, and it's really quite frightening. Is that where you got the name from because I really can’t see the connection myself?
Sei: No, absolutely not! If you do a Google search on Teke Teke, you'll always get a lot of those ghost stories and it's an urban legend in Japan, but no, Teke Teke is actually the sound of the surf guitar makes, so it's an onomatopoeia. Also, it's slang from the 1960's for teenagers in Japan who would dress up as surfers, but didn't really know how to surf. They were called Teketekes.
OL: We spoke to Maya back in January for a 'Bunch of Five' article where she shared her top five influences with us, but I wanted to give you both another opportunity to list some of the influences that are important to you, and not necessarily just musical ones either.
Maya: We are really interested in underground art from the 60s 70s in Japan, where they were doing a lot of experimental cinema, theatre, music, visual art, everything!
Sei: One film director that we really liked from that era is Tereyama Shuji who was a big inspiration for us, especially one of his films called Pastoral.
Maya: He was actually a writer and he started to do film and theatre. It's a very experimental film and very surreal and focused on people who are outcasts.
Sei: The full version of that movie Pastoral is on YouTube, with English subtitles and very decent quality, so just watching that movie, you get the whole kind of vibe of that movement, which is very colourful, with a lot of surrealism and very psychedelic.
Maya: And showing a very dark side...
Sei: Yeah, a lot of beauty is in the dark side of things.
OL: I can definitely see that kind of link between your music and that surreal vibe. That's quite a good link to talking about the visual elements in your album sleeves and also particularly in the videos, because they are very colourful and surreal themselves. I'd be interested in exploring some of the ideas behind those because you've got a whole range of ideas, incorporating childhood videos, animations and things like that. Is it just the two of you creating those?
Sei: Yes, it is. We do it ourselves for two reasons. One is out of necessity, you know, we have got to do it ourselves, but the other reason is that, of course, Maya is a visual artist. From when we started the band, it was clear that whatever she was doing was always really perfect for the world of TEKE::TEKE. Also because the lyrics are in Japanese, the visuals really help support the whole vibe and the topics we like to explore with the music and lyrics. It's almost like the lyrics in the songs create a character or little short stories or scenes and the album is the big picture with its soundtrack. In the videos we're trying to illustrate that. We are limited technically and we're learning new animation software. I do more of the editing of the videos and did some animation for the video for Garakuta, but most of the character designs and backgrounds and everything is coming from Maya.
OL: What are your feelings about artificial intelligence and the way that it is taking over some of these things? I've seen videos that are made entirely by AI.
Sei: We've been having a lot of discussions about AI recently. AI music and poetry and everything, but we haven't yet seen any videos, but we'll probably check it out.
Maya: AI is only going to use what already exists to create, but what we can do is create, for example, a song that only exists in our head and connect with people through that. That process is a really stellar human power
OL: Yes, AI can't really have a soul or spirit or passion because it’s not a living thing. You can definitely tell the difference at the moment.
Sei: At the moment! I wonder if at some point, AI will show some signs of having a soul or something that's beyond that?
OL: It's really about creativity and how it can be taken over by technology. Technology has helped us to create so far, so hopefully it can keep on helping us as long as we don't let it take over. Coming back to TEKE::TEKE, we talked about the videos being helpful to people that don't understand the lyrics because they are in Japanese. Is the fact you are singing in Japanese something that you feel is a barrier? The reason I'm asking that is because there are many cultural stereotypes that Western people have about Japanese music and about the way Japanese bands are perceived as they often tend to see them more as Japanese copies of Western music rather than simply in their own right. There is also there's an unwillingness to listen to things that are not in English to the extent that a lot of bands from Europe will sing in English.
Maya: I don’t write in English or French because I feel more comfortable using the vocabulary and the culture that I've grown up with and I can tell you more in Japanese, so that's why I sing in Japanese. The videos have translations and on the website also, so if you really want to know what is in the songs, you can. Also when I was in Japan, I listened to English songs that I really didn't understand, but the music was there, and when I went to the theatre I didn't understand so much, but I could feel the emotion and could follow the story and still really enjoy that and I don't think I ever missed the point of the story.
Sei: I think Maya sings in Japanese because she feels she has more tools and can really extend and tell a story in the best way possible for her. I think it's becoming less and less of a barrier. If anything, the fact that it's in Japanese attracts people who are curious and they get the vibe to start with so maybe they don't worry so much about what the song is really telling them. Although we try to put subtitles on the videos and have the lyrics in French and English on our website, it's actually very difficult to translate as the Japanese language allows for a certain style of poetry to that's very hard to translate. We have it there for people who want to dig a little deeper, but I think with bands today, there's a lot of bands like sing in different languages. I think of Altin Gun, they sing in Turkish. There are so many bands that I listen to that I don't really speak their language, so I don't know what they're talking about, but I get a feeling for the music, even in the vocals. and then when I'm really digging something then I'll make the next step and check out the songs. A lot of times when I read the lyrics I go ok, that's kind of like what I had in mind when I first heard the music. It is very rare that I go "oh my god, this is talking about something different, I'm going to forget about this music".
OL: I think it does make you listen in a different way, which I think is good, because it's important to have a different experience because so much stuff is the same and not very interesting. I was wondering actually whether TEKE::TEKE is well known in Japan?
Maya: We want to be, but we don't have a contract in Japan yet!
Sei: The music is being played in Japan, it's just the music market in Japan is very different. 80% of the music people listen to is from Japan, and it's very mainstream radio, pop music. The other 20% is mainly from America and England, but again, well known and well established artists. Big, big names, you know. I think that even if we sang in Japanese, Japan would be the last territory where TEKE::TEKE would go touring, because of what I mentioned, and also because although we sing in Japanese, we don't really sound like a Japanese band, we're based in Canada, in Montreal, and I feel like our sound is really such a melting pot of different things and different flavours. The band members are not all Japanese in the band either. I am half Japanese half French Canadian, our bass player is Russian, we all have different backgrounds. So I would think that in Japan, they would hear our music and maybe there will be some familiarity, but also a lot of them will think it's kind of exotic and maybe even American sounding. Even bands that have more of an indie or punk edge that are from Japan, they tour more in Europe and America than Japan.
Maya: If we get in the media more in Japan, I'm sure it will come, but for now, there are only a few people who are really curious to go and look for something different.
OL: You will now just have to get famous in Canada, the States and Europe, and then you can return to Japan as a famous touring band! You have seven members in the band, which is quite a lot to get everybody to agree and you mentioned you all have different musical backgrounds, so how do you go about writing with seven people? How do you control seven different personalities and get something that actually sounds good at the end of it?
Sei: It's still a work in progress! and it keeps evolving. From the first album to the second album, there's so much that has happened. There was a lot of touring too, so we got to know each other a lot more. For the first album, I actually brought a lot of the songs in already finished in a way, and then we deconstructed everything, and put everything back together again. For the second album, I knew I had to bring it to six other people and they have to find a way to connect to that song. It was a big lesson for me to not think that I'm just gonna write a song and bring it to everybody. What I did for the second album was just bring in little pieces of ideas, little riffs, and that allowed for everyone to participate and bring in more of their own lines and ideas too. I think everybody understood that to make music as a seven piece you really have to visualise the music as a whole. You really have to listen to everything that's going on. There's so much that we can do at the seven piece with this kind of instrumentation, but you have to know also when not to play as well.
OL: Space is important in a track isn't it?
Sei: Yeah, exactly. Whereas the first time I feel like everybody just played at the same time, for the second album, it was like, okay, well, I'm gonna back off a little maybe we'll hear the trombone and flute, little more here, and then I'll come back and, you know, I think we were more aware of leaving space.
OL: I did notice that actually, there's a lot of very quiet and subtle moments on the second album. Some of the tracks are quite short, they're instrumental. Others are quite beautiful, really, and there's a lot of space within that album, which I think is a definite evolution from the sound that you started out with on the first album, and some of the singles.
Sei: Exactly. The live experience, it's a different world. There's a lot of a lot of energy we like to bring and also there's a bit of well, some would say a bit of theatricality to it too, especially with Maya, her presence on stage. We like to get down with the music and it's really nice to connect with the audience, not just with the fans but also a lot with the people who are just discovering us. I get really excited going to places where they haven't seen us and maybe they haven't heard of us as it gives me a lot of energy and it's a nice surprise for them and us.
OL: You are coming over in September for seven dates. Have you played in the UK before?
Sei : Yes, this will be our second time. We played in most of the cities we are playing at in September. We played in Manchester, we played in London, we played in Brighton even for The Great Escape festival.
OL: What are your feelings about being based in Montreal though? Is it the best thing for you longer term, or would you relocate if you thought you needed to in order to take the next step for TEKE::TEKE?
Sei: I think Montreal is a great place to be doing this. And I think if it wasn't for Montreal, we wouldn't even have met. That's how Montreal is. You know, we were talking before the interview about how prices have gone up in London and across the UK. It’s the trend almost anywhere and it is in Montreal too in a way, but it's still much cheaper than in most cities, including other cities in Canada. I personally have a love/hate relationship with Montreal, but I would say there's a lot of love here, because it's easier for artists to live here and have time to do creative stuff. So, I don't see any good reasons to leave or go somewhere else. We love to travel so it's a good place to have as your core base as New York City's not too far, it's easy to get on a plane and go on the West Coast and go to LA or even the UK. I can't wait, we love the UK. The fact that we're getting to go for the second time, I never would have imagined that, and all the support we get from people like you guys, and the BBC have been really, really, generous with us. It's amazing.
OL: Well, we always like to recognise quality! Before we wrap up, is there anything else you'd like to say?
Maya: When you were asking about the live music and the difference between that and recording the album, I was thinking that it's like making a drawing, and then we've made a drawing with our music in the studio, what I want to do is to put breath into that and the character in the drawing starts to move. That's what I really want to create with our performances. I want to bring that drawing to life.
Sei: Also, I think playing live music is how you can really show the differences between AI and not AI. So maybe that's the last chance we have to beat the machines!
OL: That may very well be true! Wouldn't it be so boring if live performances were all by AI or robots (apart from Kraftwerk of course!), so it’s great that you are breathing real life into your songs through your live shows and the passion and energy that you have. We're looking forward to you coming back to the UK in September to share that energy with us.
‘Hagata’ is out now on Kill Rock Stars.
TEKE::TEKE UK 2023 tour dates
Sept 2 Manchester - Manchester Psych Fest
Sept 3 Dorset - End of the Road Fest
Sep 5 Southampton - Heartbreakers
Sep 6 Cardiff - Club Ifor Bach
Sep 7 Bristol - Crofters Rights
Sep 8 London - Moth Club
Sep 9 Brighton - Psych de Solei